Acupuncture and Trauma

As I continue with my pre-medicine studies this year, I have come full circle back to one of my initial interests in acupuncture: treating trauma.  When a person has gone through a traumatic event or events, the brain may have difficulty processing what has happened.  This may leave a person with both lingering psychological and physiological symptoms that interfere with daily life.  There are many methods in acupuncture and Chinese medicine that can aid people, enhancing both the therapeutic process and recovery.

While using acupuncture directly to treat trauma is the most direct way for an acupuncturist to help healing, some people may find the idea of needles themselves to be fear inducing.  Needles don’t have to be involved in order for the system behind acupuncture and Chinese medicine to be of service.  Acupressure, acutonics (the use of tuning forks at acupuncture points), Japanese-style acupuncture, tuina and shiatsu can all be utilized to work around this, minimizing exposure to a triggering medium.

Bessel van der Kolk, one of the leading experts on trauma in the United States, passionately expounds on the need for integrative methods in treating trauma in his book, “The Body Keeps the Score“.  In it, he finds that one of the most common methods that people used to recover from the trauma of 9/11 was acupuncture.  While he doesn’t specifically explore acupuncture and Chinese medicine directly, massage and treatment methods that involve helping body and mind integrate and relax are. It is in this way that East Asian medicine can benefit people who have gone through trauma.

While I don’t currently have a practice set up as I study and prepare to get into medical school, I am excited about continuing my journey as a practitioner while going in this direction.  I am passionate about remaining up to date on integrative and complementary methods of treating trauma, and look forward to being a part of people’s healing process.

Counter to…

I read an opinion piece today in the New York Times titled “How to Counter the Circus of Pseudoscience”.  As a practitioner of “pseudoscience” who aspires to go to medical school, many conflicting thoughts ran through my head, ranging from defensive to sympathetic.  The author is a medical doctor who is highly critical of naturopaths and Goop-inspired natural medicine.  Her main problem seemed to be the overconfidence of many “practitioners” (her quotation marks, not mine) in their scientifically questionable knowledge and methods.  While dismissing and invalidating the entire field of natural medicine and it’s “practitioners”, she also enthusiastically trumpets her own fields ability to reflect on their mistakes and know their limitations– “especially the good ones”.

What about the good practitioners of natural medicine?  Are they allowed to exist in this doctor’s paradigm?  Are we all quacks, with medical doctors alone holding the light to the afflictions of humanity?

What I found this author failed to acknowledge was a very common situation when a person goes to their doctor, and the doctor either can’t find anything medically wrong with them, or possibly even fails to address their needs.  It is here where natural or complementary medicine can be quite effective.  In my own practice over the years, I’ve seen many people with unresolved health problems, whose tests come back from their doctor negative, but who then find results through acupuncture and Chinese medicine.    Can I explain my treatment scientifically?  No, not completely.  Do people find relief from it?  Many times yes, and sometimes no.  And if I can’t help them after a couple of session, I refer then to someone who I think can, and suggest terminating the treatment.

Where I feel like this author went astray is her failure to recognize that people want help with their problems, and if doctors don’t have the softer tools to help them, they’ll look for someone who does.  Neither does she differentiate between natural health “practitioners” who are reckless with their belief that supplements and right living are cure-alls, and those of us who know the limits of our chosen medicine.  We do exist as a breed of natural medicine practitioners, who refer people back to their doctors, who don’t feel comfortable treating people without having the diagnostic testing to rule out more serious underlying conditions, who keep a vigilant eye out for red flags, and who are aware, for better and for worse, that the medicine that they practice isn’t and can’t necessarily be validated by science.

Like many in my field, I got into natural medicine because I wanted to help people, just like many M.Ds.  I thought natural medicine would make a good tool with which to partner with patients to find a preventive healthcare regiment that worked to keep them healthy, and would enable me to spend more time with patients than the average doctor.  I envisioned partnering with a patient’s primary care provider and any specialist they had to help keep track of the patient’s total wellness, each field complementing the others.  This was idealistic and somewhat naive of me, as that sometimes doesn’t even happen within the medical field itself.    So often, we find ourselves “counter to” the medical establishment, and the medical establishment often counters us.  But what if we worked with each other?

Opposition often breeds estrangement, resentment, and lack of trust.  The more the allopathic medical profession fails to see what natural medicine has to offer, the more natural medicine in inclined to dig in their heels and put blinders on.  What would things look like now, if instead of prescribing opioids as a blanket remedy for pain, doctors took the time to really investigate which types of pain issues tended to respond well to acupuncture, massage and chiropractic? What if instead of dismissing the entire natural medicine field as full of  “practitioners”, MDs, ARNPs, and PAs and nurses worked to find the ethical practitioners in the field?  Both fields have their bad eggs, but neither does itself or its patients any favors when it dismisses or downplays the other.

Breech babies

You’ve just started your third trimester.  The last ultrasound showed that your baby was breech.  You expect it to flip any time now, but weeks pass by and your baby stubbornly remains head up.  Perhaps your OB or midwife suggests the Spinning Babies website. You do the exercises and hope that the movements you’re feeling involve a flip, and then, suddenly, it’s week 36.   Your baby is still upright, and the OB/midwife tells you that if the baby doesn’t flip soon, you’ll need to schedule a C-section.  Maybe you’re planning on having one already, but if not, the news could come as a bit of a shock.

The standard medical procedure for breech babies performed by your OB/midwife is an external cephalic version.  The OB/midwife manually encourage the baby to flip, with fetal monitoring to make sure that nothing goes wrong.  This is usually scheduled during weeks 36-38.  But perhaps you’re not content to just schedule a version.  You’re scared and stressed that you may have to have a c-section before you’ve had a chance to labor, and you want to see what’s out there.

I’m an acupuncturist, so of course I’m going to mention acupuncture.  In addition to using moxabustion (the burning of mugwort on or over an acupuncture point) over UB 67, the point classically indicated for breech babies, acupuncture can help relax the muscles and sinews, giving your baby more room to move.  Sometimes this is enough to flip the baby.  Other times, it’s not.

Prenatal massage can also help, relaxing you and your muscles.  I practice out of Aditi Studios, which has some wonderfully qualified massage therapists who specialize in prenatal massage.  This and acupuncture work well in tandem with the next thing on the list:

The Webster technique is a chiropractic technique that can also be tried.  Since I’m not a chiropractor, I can’t tell you exactly what’s involved, but from my own personal experience with it (this scenario is one I went through myself), it seems to address pelvic alignment, and it can be magical.  Only specially trained chiropractors do this, so make sure to call the chiropractors in your area to check in to see which ones know how.   I went to Dr. Gita Vasudeva at Health Excellence Chiropractic here in Seattle, and she was great.

There are a handful of other techniques you can try at home as well.  Ice near the baby’s head in an attempt to freeze them into moving can be helpful, but remember to warm yourself after.  Putting a speaker or headphones playing soft, relaxing music toward the bottom of your belly might lure the baby’s head down, trying to get closer to the source of the pretty sounds.  And being on your hands and knees as much as possible.  Is your floor kinda gross?  Might as well clean it now!  I’ve also heard stories of mamas on the eve of their scheduled c-section or during labor having a word with their babies, and the babies flipping then, but that’s pressing things a little close to the wire!

Remember though, even if your baby doesn’t flip and you have a c-section, the most important thing is a healthy baby and a healthy mama.  Labor and childbirth is unpredictable, and in the end, we have to surrender control to the process of our body as it figures out how to deliver our baby.  It never hurts to look into these things and most definitely advocate for yourself, but it’s ok if things don’t turn out the way you hoped they would.  As long as you and your little one find each other in the end and are able to go home together, you’ve done good, Mama.